At the meeting of the Common Council Legal Committee on Wednesday, two laws that are currently part of the city code were discussed: the law banning formula businesses, enacted in 2017, and the vacancy law, enacted in 2018.
In June, amendments proposed to the law banning formula businesses (Chapter 325, Article XIV, of the city code) were on the Common Council agenda but were sent back to the Legal Committee for further consideration. Since then, Councilmember Margaret Morris (First Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee, has sought the input of the Hudson business community in revising the law. At Wednesday's meeting, Alex Petraglia, president of the Hudson Business Coalition, reported that HBCi had formed an ad hoc committee to make recommendations for revisions to the law to prohibit businesses that are in violation of the law from opening. Those recommendations are expected to be presented to the Legal Committee at its October meeting.
In the meantime, Chic, which has stores in eleven other locations (the law prohibits businesses with four other locations), opened a shop at 314 Warren Street and complied with the existing code by revising its business plan and not calling the shop Chic.
The vacancy law, Chapter 91 of the city code, was also discussed at Wednesday's meeting. Hudson has had a vacancy law for more than five years now. The law was meant to discourage allowing buildings to stand empty, become derelict, and ultimately be demolished. Five years after the law was enacted, it's not clear if it has been effective in achieving the goals of preventing demolition and keeping dwelling units available.
In November 2022, BFJ Planning, hired to consult on policy issues with the Housing Trust Fund, provided a 75-page memo on revising the city's vacancy law. It was not this memo but rather an email from Michelle Tullo, Hudson's Housing Justice Director, forwarded to the Legal Committee by Council president Tom DePietro, that prompted the discussion of the vacancy law at the Legal Committee meeting. Tullo's email suggested the following "tweaks" to the vacancy law:
- Clarifying the definition to reflect the purpose of the law
- Add a time frame to the definition of vacancy
- Add a time frame to how long a building can be vacant with a building permit and have no action happen before it reverts to being vacant again
- Methodology for determining vacancy
- Clarify the registration process and make the form fillable online
- Specify who is overlooking the vacancy list
- Add an appeal process
- Add obligations of the owner and insurance of the vacant property
- Increase the vacancy fees
- Expand the exemption list for fees
- Add a complaint process for residents to submit and a review process
- Audit and report on this annually
- Consider eminent domain process for unreachable owners/dangerous sites
The house, a two-family dwelling, was purchased by its current owner in 2004 for $162,000. According to reports from neighbors, no one has lived in the house since that time. In 2019, Gossips learned that some people in the neighborhood were calling for its demolition, calling it a zombie house and claiming it was a haven for feral animals and a fire hazard. The house has a number of code violations, and the City has taken legal action against the owner (whose name and address are readily available in the tax rolls) but to no avail. The City cannot seize the property because the taxes on the house, now assessed at $244,000, continue to be paid.
It will be interesting to see what the Legal Committee does with both these laws.
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